Georgia was the last of the original 13 colonies to be established by Great Britain during the early 1700s. The colony was established by a charter and initially managed and developed by a group of trustees. Although by the mid-19th century Georgia had more plantations than any other state, was almost fully economically dependent on slavery and eventually became one of the central anti-abolitionist states in the Confederacy, the colony began as a place free from slavery and was initially intended to be a place of social reform for the English poor.
The purpose of Georgia was twofold: To have a state between South Carolina and Spanish Florida that would act as a buffer and to create an opportunity for indebted British citizens to have a fresh start.
Why Was Georgia Founded?
The very last of the 13 original colonies founded by Great Britain, Georgia's charter as a colony was given to General James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe's purpose for building the colony was born of a desire to improve the lives of the impoverished and to undo the damage that the culture of debtor's prisons in England had inflicted on the urban poor. In Oglethorpe's estimation, there were a number of debtors in British prisons and workhouses who could have been considered "the worthy poor." These individuals, he felt, had fallen into poverty through no fault of their own and deserved the opportunity for a fresh start. Oglethorpe conceived of the colony as a place of rehabilitation, relief and refuge for recently released debtors and what was then termed the "worthy poor" who might have been jailed in England.
Oglethorpe was a philanthropist and an avid social reformer who felt that certain living conditions could change the lives of impoverished and indebted citizens for the better. He imposed very strict laws at the outset of the founding of the colony, including banning all alcoholic beverages, banning slavery, banning lawyers as well as people of the Catholic and Jewish faiths and requiring cooperative living with the native people who had previously occupied the land. An additional reason for the founding of the Georgia colony was to create a buffer state between the colonies and Spanish Florida to the south.
Oglethorpe received the charter for Georgia in April of 1732. By November, 35 families had been selected by a committee as being worthy of emigrating to the United States in the interest of beginning a new life there. Interestingly, none of these families were in debtors' prisons at the time of their selection. Nevertheless, the chosen colonists boarded a boat from Gravesend, England and from there sailed to the North American continent. Shortly thereafter, they split off into smaller vessels and came upriver to what would later be called Savannah.
Who Was the Founder of Georgia?
General James Oglethorpe was an English military man, philanthropist, social reformer and the founder of the Georgia colony. After an impressive military career with the Royal Army wherein he participated in a number of battles in Hungary, Oglethorpe returned to England where he shortly thereafter killed a man during a brawl and found himself sent to prison. Upon his release, he became a member of Parliament, where he was known for his benevolence and views against slavery, impressment and other punishments or states of being which he believed to be cruel and unusual. As a member of the Prison Discipline Committee, Oglethorpe first conceived of the idea of a civilization designed to provide a place of refuge and rebuilding for imprisoned debtors. Oglethorpe and some other thinkers of the day began to bandy the idea around, and it slowly began to gather broader support.
When a friend of Oglethorpe's perished in a debtor's prison after contracting smallpox, Oglethorpe was compelled to push more seriously for a solution to the problem, and thus began the work toward advancing his cause. He and 21 other men created a charter for the new state named Georgia in honor of King George II. Through his personal connections, Oglethorpe was able to get the charter processed quickly by the king with the agreement that no man would make a profit off of the colony.
Georgia Colony Facts
While originally the plan for Georgia was to build a colony of prisoners who had been incarcerated for debts or poverty, the plan soon changed. When the trustees along with Oglethorpe began to make their selections for the original colonists who would populate the state, they began to seek out skilled trades and craftspeople rather than debtors. They decided that even though the colony's mission still held to the ideals of social reform and freedom from institutionalized oppression, the focus of the colony would be to build a community of skilled laborers and agricultural workers. This meant finding farmers, bakers, carpenters, merchants and other skilled professionals with training and experience that could make the new colony a self-sustaining economy.
As these skilled tradespeople were recruited for their new life in the colonies, the money saved to send them overseas was raised more easily than had the trustees been exclusively settling debtors and prisoners, around whom there was still skepticism about their right to a fresh start.
In November 1732, the boat carrying the future Georgia settlers left London bound for the New World. They arrived in South Carolina at Port Royal. It was there that they met the South Carolina governor and his wife, a native person of the Creek tribe. The Creek people helped the settlers get acclimated and begin establishing their civilization in Savannah. On February 1, 1733, the settlers arrived at the place where they would begin to make the settlement in what would eventually become Savannah.
The first task set to the settlers was the construction of a wall around the settlement, similar to the walls guarding medieval towns in Britain. The idea was that each of the colonists would work together to complete the tasks necessary for the whole settlement, and when that task was completed, they would move on to the next. There was a communist aspect to the way that this was organized. Oglethorpe and the other trustees were adamant that the new society they were creating was an equal one in which each family did the work necessary for their survival and prosperity, and there was absolutely no slavery. This, they felt, would help bring about the existence of a single class and do away with the hierarchy seen in monarchical societies like the one they had just left.
The Georgia Colony Economy
During the early years, Oglethorpe's goals were to direct the political and social climate of the colony. He was determined to create as egalitarian a state as was possible under the circumstances. He also spent considerable time and effort helping to attract colonists from England and from other parts of Europe. This, he hoped, would make the colony a robust place and a self-sustaining vibrant community.
Unfortunately, after five years there, Oglethorpe began to grow increasingly concerned about his colony. Because there was no slavery and no real land holding permitted by the residents, those factors affected the Georgian economy. Oglethorpe believed deeply that slavery was immoral and that it was at odds with the law of Britain from which the colony had sprung and to whom it was indebted. However, as the colonists began to face increasing hardships, the lack of slavery and the lack of land ownership along with a proliferation of rum were all blamed for the colony's failure to thrive.
It was the realization that Oglethorpe's ideals for the colony of Georgia had changed so drastically that caused him to become disillusioned with the colony and to quit his work on it. It was a tremendous disappointment for Oglethorpe, who had watched the colony change drastically from what he believed would be a respite from persecution and a place where those who had suffered because of poverty, lack of work, illness or other hardship could once again have the chance to build a life that they wanted to lead. The colony was originally intended to be a counterweight to the cold capitalist nature of Britain and a benevolent service to those in need. However, it became a place he no longer recognized. Georgia became an official royal colony in 1752, and the citizens petitioned for the original charter to be revoked, a tremendous blow to Oglethorpe's plans and vision.
Cotton and the Georgia Economy
Though its founding was predicated on notions of anti-slavery and equality, Georgia would soon become the colony most reliant on slave labor for its economy. Cotton plantations and other agricultural endeavors that utilized slave labor helped the state's economy to become very wealthy. Georgia eventually became the center of all cotton growth and production in the American South, an industry that was the main tentpole of the economy in the region. Many of the initial settlers in Georgia had come from the already-established South Carolina colony and were frustrated by the limitations placed upon them, especially with regard to land ownership and slavery, which they were certain would lead to poverty.
Although Oglethorpe had done a good thing by making sure that the Georgia settlers remained on good terms with the local Indians, the trade economy he had established with the native people was far from sufficient to provide the kind of economy the nation needed.
During the early years of Georgia's founding, a number of disparate religious groups found themselves interested in and intent on establishing new lives away from the persecution they had faced in their home countries. This led to the cohabitation of Quakers, Puritans and Lutherans on the land earmarked to remain a buffer between Spanish Florida and South Carolina.
In 1751, the trustees officially abandoned the charter for the colony, and Oglethorpe returned to England defeated, never to step foot in his colony again. The colonists themselves had argued for the right to reinstate slavery, and when that right was granted, it rendered the original charter of the state effectively neutered. The trustees themselves agreed to turn control back to the king of England, even though they were permitted additional time to make their plan work. Soon, Georgia was a royal colony.
Cotton seeds were among the things that traveled along with James Oglethorpe on the ship he took from England to the southern part of the East coast. Unbeknownst to him, the colony predicated on abolitionist sentiment and a desire for equality for all would soon become the leading location of slave-worked cotton plantations in the U.S. Prior to the introduction of cotton crops and the resultant wealth that helped establish the U.S. as a world power, the economy of Georgia was dominated by rice plantations owned by a small number of wealthy people and worked almost entirely by the hands of enslaved Africans. Georgia would go on to be the fourth state to ratify the Constitution and would become the state in the union with the most slaves and the largest number of plantations in the U.S.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.